“Mama, where you want this?” Evangeline called, trying to see around the box she carried into the kitchen. She lay the box on the counter. “Mitch, where’s Mama?”
Crash! “Sabine, was that Cam? Where’s Cam?”
“Out back, checkin’ the gumbo,” Mitchell called back.
“He’s fine,” Sabine laughed, “he found the boxes, didn’t you, bétail?”
“Tammany, move your stuff into your room, please-and shut the door! You’re lettin’ all of Mama’s new air conditioning out.”
“It’s gonna take a while to get used to that,” Mama said from behind her. “It’s like a dream-some good, like this house, thank you, Jesus.” She made the sign of the cross and looked at Evangeline with tears in her eyes.
Evangeline hugged her mother tightly. “It’s gonna be alright, Mama,” she told her. “I promise.” She prayed she could keep that promise. Ever since that night at the hospital her world and everything she thought she knew had been turned upside down. Agent Kiruk said she wasn’t alone, that there were others like her, but that was being euphemistically kind. The truth was there were no others like her, not that they knew of anyway. There were other people with certain unique abilities, true, and that was fantastic enough; but no other symbiotes-she’d figured that part out at least, eventually.
Khel, she called it-she had no idea if it was male or female, or if there even was such a thing with its kind. By the time they’d gotten Corp. Jansen Thibodeaux to the hospital it was already too late. Infection had set in on the transport plane from ‘Nam and he’d gone too long without proper treatment. His family had been called but she’d known they wouldn’t arrive in time. He’d been out of his mind with fever, thrashing on the bed. She’d done her best to make him comfortable, held his hand and waited. She’d sung hymns, soulful songs of the glory of Heaven and a Father’s love, a place of peace. It had seemed to calm him some. He’d been unconscious for a while when suddenly he sat straight up in the bed, his eyes clear and lucid. His entire body had begun to glow and for a moment she’d thought she was witnessing some kind of angelic visitation.
“Take care of Khel,” he’d told her, quite clearly. “Remember.” He’d touched one finger to her forehead and it had been like being touched by pure energy. She hadn’t been able to move, or breathe; it hadn’t hurt, really, more like high speed vibration, incredibly high speed, like every cell in her body had just become super-charged and she’d hummed with it. She’d felt…expanded, like she was more. Frozen, she’d watched as the glow flowed over her, connecting her to Corp. Thibodeaux. Then another mind had touched hers and if she hadn’t been humming with energy she probably would have fainted. This presence, this awareness-Khel-had been sad. There was affection for Corp. Jansen, a bond of some kind
The young man had smiled. “Go,” he said, and the glow had fully transferred to her. As the energy left him, Corp. Jansen Thibodeaux had closed his eyes, and was gone. She’d had one last impression of sadness then her own glow had faded. It was still there though, this “Khel,” she had still felt the presence. The realization that something was inside of her had hit and she had panicked. Her jumbled apology as she had raced out of the hospital had been written off as shock she’d learned later. But she’d needed time and somewhere to think, to figure things out, and there was only one place she had thought of.
She spent that night in the hallowed peace of Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s sanctuary, thinking and praying. The simple fact that she had been able to walk inside of the church without dire effects had made her breathe a little easier. Nothing about what she had felt from “Khel” had felt evil but her mind had still been struggling to make sense of what had just happened to her. Part of her had been petrified, but part of her had also been exhilarated, both of which had left her shaking. Another part of her had been outraged at her lack of choice, at this invasion of her body. She’d lit a candle and prayed, trying to calm herself. Kneeling there in the pew, after she’d asked for help and guidance, she’d thought back to what Corp. Thibodeaux had said.
“Take care of you, how am I supposed to take care of you?” she’d thought to herself-ourselves? “And what am I supposed to remember?” She’d tried to focus on Khel, like turning her senses inward, she’d tried everything she could think of and eventually something had started to happen. At first she’d thought that she had fallen asleep and was dreaming but then she’d realized she was seeing parts of Corp. Thibodeaux’s life! Little scenes, like mini movies, had started playing in her mind, including one where she’d watched that glowing energy flow into a younger Corp. Jansen from a wisened old man dressed in what looked to be Buddhist monk robes. Fascinated, she’d focused on the monk and the scenes had switched to a temple filled with brothers in prayer, scenes of a life of service but also persecution, and the now-familiar transfer of energy to a young monk from-Holy Mary, mother of God-something that wasn’t human! Again, she’d focused on the new host, as she was figuring out they were. This one had a definite upper and lower body, with tentacle-like appendages at the top and a narrow lower body with a split “tail,” for lack of a better word. By now she had figured out these must be memories of Khel’s hosts, and how fascinating was that?!? An alien world with an impossibly tall city rising on the bank of a pink sea; flying-flying?!?-through space-oh sweet Father, this had to be impossible!-at unbelievable speeds!
She probably would have been more sure that she had lost her mind if each set of memories hadn’t held an unmistakable affection, a connection or loyalty that Khel had felt for each of these past hosts. That emotion had gone a long way in helping her accept what had to be impossible. But she believed in miracles and those were supposed to be impossible, too. The next day her trip into the Twilight Zone was completed when she met the young man soon to be known as Reaper, and Agent Kiruk and Proxy 6 from Damocles. There was a frantic drive to New Orleans where she’d gone from healer to killer in 24 hours. Khel had taken over and done what had to be done but it had been a harsh introduction to her new “powers,” powers she was still exploring. She’d spent the last few weeks delving as far back into Khel’s memories as she could, trying to learn what they could do.
Damocles had offered her a place to belong and a job that needed doing. As exciting as that was she had hesitated, not wanting to leave her family without help. Ever since Daddy had gone missing, presumed dead in the war, Mama was having a hard time. She’d never even gotten to tell him about Cameron, Jr. who had just turned 2. Everybody helped but Sabine was married and expecting her own child; Mitchell was a whizz with engines, just like Daddy, but jobs were hard to come by for Negros. Tammany helped with the baby but she was just 13. Her father’s death benefits had allowed Evangeline to go to school but every penny was needed and her income would be sorely missed. Damocles had stepped in again and here they were, moving Mama into a wonderful 3 bedroom home with central air conditioning! No more box fans in the windows and the insufferable heat. Agent Kiruk had also arranged to increase her pay, most of which would be sent home to help or set aside for school. She was beyond grateful.
“I have to go, Mama,” she said, stepping back. They’d decided not to tell her siblings about Khel but her mother knew, she’d told her everything. Mama had called her a protector, not a killer, and she prayed she could live up to that.
“I have something for you,” Mama said quickly. She opened a small box and took out a necklace. She placed the shiny St. Christopher medal aroud her neck and said, “I will light a candle for you every day. Be safe, cher-je t’aime.”
Tears and hugs all around, she said her goodbyes and started to leave. “Wait, how are you gonna get there?” Mama asked.
“Mama,” she said with a huge smile, “I’m gonna fly!”